Monday, March 19, 2007

Gems from Dominic Papatola

At the NEA Institute, Drama Critic Dominic Papatola (he's the guy waving in the picture below taken on our final night at the top of the Westin in a revolving bar) was one of our more practical speakers. He focused on what a critics role in the newsroom should be and what we can do to make our reviews better.

Some of the highlights of the session for me were these statements:
The world is screaming for information. We produce a vital commodity, but the way we produce it is too expensive. Everything is local. Hyper-local. Theater coverage can come only from the community where it happens. Unfortunately, many news rooms perceive it as being ‘not useful.”

There is a lot to be said for this. If I wanted to know about American Idol or Apprentice, there are a million Websites and fan sites that can slate my thirst. If I want to know about a movie, I'm most likely going to go to Epinions or to Rotton Tomatoes. However, if I want information about the live theater that I see, I've got to get it here in Lansing. Newspaper have the opportunity to provide unique content--and unique content is certainly the buzz word when it comes to being economically successful online.

Art critics have to be as good as any other writer, teacher, and philosopher. Art is organic, it’s part of life. Be journalists. You can’t just engage theater in the auditorium. You have to connect it to the world: what is happening in business, politics, neighborhoods, pop culture. Find stories that connect theater to the community.

This is one of my biggest challenges as a reviewer. My tendency is to connect theater to other theater because that is what is meaningful in my world. However, what is meaningful to me is not necessarily meaningful to my reader.

Finally, Dominic expounded on the five "devils" of arts writing:

  1. Loving the sound of your own voice.
  2. Ivy towerism.
  3. Lack of agility to hop on something that’s a story.
  4. Lack of engagement; lack of participation.
  5. Write to your length. If not, give the editor optional cuts.

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